French, Cockney, Dutch in Borrow

Glad to see the French are bemoaning the death of Cockney. There’s a lovely bit in George Borrow’s Romany Rye where he has moved into an inn in which

there was a barber and hair-dresser, who had been at Paris, and talked French with a cockney accent; the French sounding all the better, as no accent is so melodious as the cockney.

Cockney may be dying, but the triumph of nouvelle Cockney, Mockney, over French can be seen in the superstar status accorded to Brit telly chef, Jamie Oliver–at least until he suffered the typically British fate of being driven out of his Hampstead bolthole by pub drunks shouting “Oi, Jamie, rig us up a bacon sarnie” through his letterbox at kicking-out time (sez the DG).

Other items in Borrow that I found interesting include, in Lavengro, the use of “High Dutch” (probably a Norfolkism from the Dutch Hoogduits, in opposition to Nederduits (in which language Vondel asked his compatriots to write)) to mean “German” and the appearance of a trekschuit, a classic Dutch horse-drawn public service boat:

On the second day we reached a marshy and fenny country, which, owing to immense quantities of rain which had lately fallen, was completely submerged. At a large town we got on board a kind of passage-boat, crowded with people; it had neither sails nor oars, and those were not the days of steam-vessels; it was a treck-schuyt, and was drawn by horses. Young as I was, there was much connected with this journey which highly surprised me, and which brought to my remembrance particular scenes described in the book which I now generally carried in my bosom. The country was, as I have already said, submerged — entirely drowned — no land was visible; the trees were growing bolt upright in the flood, whilst farmhouses and cottages were standing insulated; the horses which drew us were up to the knees in water, and, on coming to blind pools and ‘greedy depths,’ were not unfrequently swimming, in which case, the boys or urchins who mounted them sometimes stood, sometimes knelt, upon the saddle and pillions. No accident, however, occurred either to the quadrupeds or bipeds, who appeared respectively to be quite au fait in their business, and extricated themselves with the greatest ease from places in which Pharaoh and all his host would have gone to the bottom.

Other quotes will follow–I haven’t read this stuff since I was a kid, and I am, of course, wiser as well as older now. This evening I’m convinced that Borrow is a chronologically aleatoric bragging champion situated somewhere between Thomas de Quincey and James George Frazer, but that judgement may change.

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